Makes you wonder why some people go “camping” at all.
For the past few days, my friends and I have had the displeasure of camping across a small inlet from a man in an RV almost the size of my Mobile Mansion who runs his generator from about 10 AM to about 10 PM every day.
His rig is what’s known as a “toy hauler” — a fifth wheel with space in the back and a ramp for one or more motor vehicles such as motorcycles, ATVs, or, in his case, a sand rail. He’s got the fifth wheel and sand rail parked in a very large camping spot overlooking the Colorado River and some backwaters. Of course, it’s not actually facing this peaceful view, but I guess that doesn’t matter to him. Outside, he has a table and a few chairs and a barbecue grill. But none of that matters since he spends virtually all of his time inside his RV doing something that obviously requires a generator. We think he’s watching television.
When I asked him, after listening to his generator for most of Thursday, whether he was going to run it all weekend, he replied, “Just during the day.” And if you don’t count the five to ten minutes between 5 AM and 6 AM that he runs it — likely to make coffee — and the time between sunset and 10 PM that it continues to run past what a normal person would call daylight hours, I guess he was telling the truth. Or his version of it.
Generator Man, as we call him, is camped directly across the inlet from us. We seldom see him outside. I guess he’d rather be inside watching television.
Of course, we’re camped here — and we did get here first, if that matters — and we don’t spend all of our time indoors, as he does. Sadly, inside my Mobile Mansion is the only place I don’t hear the damn thing. We’ve listened to it day in and day out. The only thing that’s prevented it from ruining our evening campfires is the fact that we’ve been playing music to drown it out. But I know that we’d all rather be listening to nature’s sounds — crickets, night birds, coyotes — than the never-ending drone of this inconsiderate asshole’s fucking generator.
We do get some silence in the morning, after his coffee is made and we’ve come out for our breakfast chat around the campfire. Yesterday, we enjoyed watching — and hearing — a variety of water birds as they fished and dove in the backwaters. That time was longer than usual, since he drove off in the morning, leaving the generator turned off. We think he went to church. I wonder if he asked God for forgiveness for disturbing the peace and quiet.
And that makes me wonder why someone would drive a truck, RV, and desert toy out to a wonderfully peaceful part of the desert, set it all up in a prime campsite, and then spend the entire time indoors, watching TV. He could have left it all parked in his driveway. Or a truck stop.
At least then the noise he was making wouldn’t really bother anyone else.
He obviously isn’t here to enjoy the scenery, let alone the silence or wildlife. He isn’t even here to play with his sand rail. He’s here to spend time inside a smaller box than his home, probably doing the same thing he’d be doing at home.
I know what you’re thinking right now. Don’t you have a generator, Maria? Don’t you run it?
If you’ve been reading about my Snowbirding adventure, you know I do. I wrote about it when I first wrote about the backwaters. It’s a 2KW Honda, known for its low sound level. I paid more than I needed to for a generator that would be as quiet as possible. And no, I don’t run it every day — especially now that the weather is warming up. I was running it for about an hour or two in the evenings to top off the charge on the RV’s battery so my heat would work throughout the night. But I don’t even need to do that anymore. I think I’ve run it twice in the past week — and once was to work a soldering iron.
I don’t even run it to make coffee — and I have two electric coffee makers on board the Mobile Mansion. I can boil water and drip a nice, strong cup without a fucking generator.
My friends each have generators. One couple runs theirs once a day — yes, to make coffee that they reheats on the stove in the morning; go figure — and the other hasn’t run theirs at all. Even when the battery on their RV died.
We all have solar panels that keep our batteries (mostly) charged. After all, we’re in the Arizona desert. There’s nothing but sun here every day. Why would we burn gas and make noise to get power when the sun is providing pretty much all the power we need?
And what do we really need power for when we’re outdoors, camping?
My friends, although annoyed by the generator sound, have been trying to be understanding about it. “We don’t know his story,” Karen said.
Wow. I’ve heard that a lot lately. It seems like a standard excuse for people to be inconsiderate of others.
But it’s true: we don’t know his story. He could have an invalid wife inside the box who needs electricity for her life support system. (That’s Karen’s suggestion, not mine.)
But is that an excuse for him ruining the peace and quiet of a beautiful place that other people are trying to enjoy?
Hell, it’s not like he’s even spending time outside, enjoying it himself. He’s inside the box all day. He could do that anywhere.
Are you like this when you camp? If so, you’re not camping.
As for me, well, I just have one more day here before I move on. I’ll spend some time with friends, then hit the road on a long-awaited photo trip to Valley of Fire and Death Valley. I’ve already been warned about the generator people at Death Valley.
Long before I retrieved the Mobile Mansion from the sale lot to begin my snowbirding trip, I booked flights home from Arizona and Sacramento. My housesitter had vacation plans for the end of January at a time that coincided with a meeting of the writing group I belong to, as well as my need to get my FAA flight physical done. I figured I might as well come home while she was away. A quick flight search on Alaska Air’s website, armed with the latest frequent flyer special offer, yielded a surprisingly inexpensive round trip flight from Phoenix to Wenatchee for that week so I booked it, thus locking me in to doing the trip in the first place and coming home in the middle of it. The Sacramento flight I booked was for later, in February, when I’d go home to fetch my helicopter for work in California’s Central Valley.
The Trip Home
So that’s why I found myself standing at the curb in front of my friends’ home near Phoenix at 4 AM on a Wednesday morning, waiting for an airport shuttle with Penny and two packed bags.
My friends wanted to take me to the airport, but I could not ask anyone to drive me anywhere at 4 AM. So before we could argue about it, I booked and paid for the Super Shuttle. Cheryl warned me that they wouldn’t be able to find her house because Mapquest gave bad directions — and I verified that Google did, too — but I instructed the driver to take 27th Avenue when I booked the trip. Still, at 4:05 AM, I saw the van’s headlights on the other side of a dry wash it could not cross. (Why ask for special instructions if you’re not going to use them?) A frantic phone call to the Super Shuttle people got me in touch with the dispatcher. Ten minutes later, the van sped down the road, coming to a stop where Penny and I waited.
I had a 6 AM flight and, for a while, was worried that we wouldn’t get to the airport on time to deal with checking bags and going through security. But there was no traffic at that hour and activity at the airport was predictably light. My ticket had been upgraded to First Class — probably because of the early purchase and my “MVP” status on Alaska Air — so I got better counter service and didn’t have to wait on the longer line for security. By 5:15, we were waiting at the gate.
I don’t fly First Class very often — I honestly don’t think it’s worth paying a lot more for — but I will occasionally splurge if it’s a long flight and the difference in price isn’t outrageous. It’s always nice to get a free upgrade. I sat in seat 2A, put Penny’s travel bag under the seat in front of me, and settled into the very comfortable seat. It was nice getting a hot breakfast, but I skipped the complementary alcohol. In hindsight, I think a bloody Mary would have been nice.
SeaTac treated us to some typically rainy weather.
We got into Seattle early and my layover was just long enough to get Penny out of her bag for the walk to the gate for our connecting flight to Wenatchee. Then Penny was back in the bag and we were on the turbo prop to Wenatchee. We’d arrive at 10:22 AM.
And yes, that’s why I took a 6:00 AM flight out of Phoenix — so I could get the first flight into Wenatchee that day and have a whole day at home instead of sitting around airports.
Return to Malaga
I’d asked my friend Alyse to pick me up at the airport. Normally, I would have taken a cab, but it had snowed on and off during the month I was gone and I knew how bad my road could get. Yes, it was passable for any vehicle with good tires and a driver who knew how to drive on snow-covered roads. But who knew what the cab company would send? Besides, I wasn’t sure what condition my driveway would be in. I knew that one of my neighbors had plowed it at least once, but when? I was hoping to get close to my front door and wasn’t convinced that a cab would pull into a snowy driveway.
Alyse and her boyfriend Joe came in her four wheel drive pickup. I threw my luggage in the back and climbed into the back seat with Penny.
We talked about the snow. When was it going to go away? It wasn’t this snowy last year. Alyse told me that in the old days, it snowed like this all the time. She wasn’t the only person to say this over the coming week.
The roads in the Wenatchee area were clear. So were the roads going into Malaga and up toward my home. But my road? Completely snow-covered. Alyse flipped it into four wheel drive and started the last two miles. It wasn’t very slippery, but it was very thick with snow in some parts. It seemed that the association had plowed it seven times (so far) that winter. Unfortunately, the guy who does the plowing is cheap and you do get what you pay for. And the farther down the road you went, the worse it was. Although there were three houses beyond mine, mine was the last one that was occupied most of the time during the winter, so the last stretch seemed barely plowed at all. In fact, my driveway was in about the same condition as the road.
I was amazed by how much snow was still on the ground. I knew the temperatures had gotten into the 40s at least a few days and had assumed that most of the now had melted. It hadn’t.
But it was beautiful.
I shot this photo of my home from the road a day or two after I got home. It really is pretty with all that snow.
Alyse and Joe helped me get my bags inside. Alyse wanted to show Joe some of the finishing touches I’d put in the place, including the rustic wood trim over my stairway stub wall and the furniture my friend Don had made out of charred wood slabs. And the Pergo I’d laid. (They flip houses and are always looking for some nice architectural touches to bring up values before selling.) Then they left. I watched to make sure they got out of the driveway, then set about unpacking.
One of the things I brought home from Quartzsite is this Himalayan rock salt lamp. While I don’t believe in its purported health benefits, I do like the way it looks when illuminated. That’s one of my antique lamps behind it.
One of the two bags I’d brought home with me was the big folding rolling bag I’d bought years ago for the Australia trip I’d begun planning in 2011 and hoped to take with my wasband in 2012. (That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.) It’s a neat piece of luggage: a very large wheeled duffle bag that folds down into a small package for storage. (I don’t think Eagle Creek makes them anymore because I can’t find it on their website.) I’d packed clothes into it when leaving on my trip in late December, unpacked in the Mobile Mansion, and stored it, folded up, in a cabinet. Then I used to to bring home a bunch of stuff I didn’t need with me, including including outdoor winter clothes and boots and a bunch of stuff I’d bought in Quartzsite for home. I didn’t have much laundry to do — I’d done most of it when I was in Wickenburg — but I had plenty of stuff to put away.
I checked on the chickens and was pleased to see I still had five hens and a rooster. No eggs. The shed still had water and cat food for my barn cat who was, as usual, absent. The housesitter had mentioned that the cat’s water froze once or twice and that surprised me because the heater I’d left in there for him was still running. It must have gotten very cold. I might insulate the shed over the summer so it stays warmer next winter.
There was no snow on my roof because it had all slipped down in front of my garage. Yes, I take credit for the poor design that causes this to happen.
Of course, the melting temperatures during the past week were just high enough to get the snow to slide off my two big roofs. On the south-facing side, that wasn’t a big deal because there was nothing there. But on the north-facing side, it slid down into a huge pile right in front of my four garage doors. That meant I had a shitload of shoveling to do if I expected to go anywhere in my Jeep. No rush to do that; I had put milk in the freezer and had plenty of food for the day — or even the week — so shopping wasn’t a big priority.
It was nice to be back in my nice, clean, warm home. It was nice to not have to worry about how much water or power I used (as I had when I’d camped off the grid in the backwaters and Quartzsite). It was nice to have fast Internet. It was nice to have a freezer full of foods I’d prepared and frozen for the days I didn’t feel like cooking and a microwave I could use to reheat them. Heck, it was even nice to have a television that I could tune into something.
I celebrated that first day home by eating a beef barley soup I’d made back in December and catching up on the Daily Show.
The Snow Bank
The next day, after doing odds and ends around the house, it was time to face the inevitable: the snow bank keeping my Jeep from exiting the garage.
My garage has five vehicle doors:
The big one on the front (east side), which measures 20 feet wide by 14 feet tall, is for the RV garage. Because I didn’t need to use that garage after my Santa flight back in early December, I’d stopped shoveling the 22 x 35 (or so) concrete pad in front of it. The snow had kept accumulating since then, melting and freezing and then accumulating some more. I estimated I had about 14 inches of frozen snow there and no real need to shovel it.
The four regular garage doors on the north side, which each measure 10 feet wide by 8 feet tall, are for my vehicles. The entrance to these garages is under my side deck, which is covered by an extension of the same roof that covers my living space. It’s a very big roof — roughly 52 x 36 feet — and built on a 3/1 slope. Because the space under it is mostly insulated, when the snow falls on it, it sticks. Until the temperatures warm up. Then the slow slides off — about six feet in front of the four garage doors below it. I was very fortunate that the snow didn’t slide off right before I left for my trip because I’d have to shovel my old truck out to make my departure. But my luck couldn’t hold out forever and the accumulated snow had dropped to a compacted “drift” 3 to 4 feet tall, 8 feet wide, and about 6 feet thick.
Fortunately, the Jeep lived in the very first garage bay. I put it there because the stairs up to my living space were in the back of that bay, making it about 5 feet shorter than the other three bays. The Honda lived beside it; that wouldn’t be back on the road until all the snow was gone in the spring. The truck lived in the third bay but it was back in Arizona. My little boat lives in the fourth bay and wouldn’t be coming out until the weather got sufficiently warm. It was a good thing these other bays didn’t have vehicles I needed to drive because the neighbor who’d plowed my driveway dumped all the snow in front of the last two bays. And that snow pile was more than 5 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet thick. That’s a hell of a lot of snow.
At this point, I was about two thirds done making my way through the snow pile outside the Jeep’s garage bay.
So on Thursday morning, after a sufficient amount of procrastinating, I put on my winter boots and a sweatshirt and headed out the garage door with two shovels. I used the long-handled spade to break up the compacted snow and the snow shovel to move it in front of the Honda’s garage bay. It was slow going warm work. In an hour, I got about two thirds of the way through it. I was glad my Jeep was narrow; if I’d been digging out a space wide enough for the truck, I would have had a lot more snow to move.
I heard a vehicle on the road and ignored it, but when it got closer, I realized I had company. It was a pickup truck I’d never seen. It stopped in front of the garage bay and three people got out — my neighbors who had plowed my driveway not once but twice while I was gone.
We chatted and the husband, John, offered to come back with his plow and move all the snow away. He even offered to plow in front of the big RV garage. I said sure, fine, and was definitely willing to pay. But we got to talking more and more. The next thing I knew, he was back in the truck, using it as a battering ram to break through the snow separating my Jeep in the garage from the rest of the driveway. He sort of sideswiped it, letting the bumper break the snow and his front tire mashing it down into a shorter pile. This was not what I had in mind to clear out the garage bay, but he was having a great time doing it, laughing gleefully every time his truck hit it. When he’d finally broken through, I went at it with my shovel and he climbed out of the truck to help. He was extremely pleased that rubbing his truck against the snow had cleaned the lower side of it.
I can’t make this shit up.
It only took a few more minutes to clear the snow away so I could drive out. There was that hump to drive over and I really didn’t want it there, but it was so tightly packed that it would have taken me hours to clear it away. Besides, I knew my Jeep could run over it. I fetched some money for the other two tow jobs and his wife took it for him. He told me to call any time I wanted him to come back with the plow. He didn’t seem to understand that he could come back that day. And then I started thinking about it and realized that I didn’t exactly need the work done. And that I could save about $100 if I didn’t have it done. So I told him I’d call if I needed it done and they all drove off, happy.
I went to the store later in the day and got some groceries, including fresh milk and salad stuff. The Jeep started right up and handled the driveway and the road without any problems.
A Week at Home
I began regretting coming home about a day later. The weather turned cold again, staying pretty much right around freezing. We had some more snow and some of it melted away when the sun came out and shined on it. But there were a few days of January fog, which I find dismally depressing, and it was too cold and snow-covered to get anything done outside.
My do-it-yourself solution for mobile indoor scrap wood storage. Don’t laugh — it works and it was dirt cheap to throw together.
I did get stuff done inside, though. I did a bunch of cleanup work in my shop. I took an old wooden crate I had, put wheels on it, and set it up as a scrap wood trolley. This made it possible to store all the scrap wood I had indoors in a place where I could move it around to get it out of the way when needed. I vacuumed up all the sawdust my miter saw and table saw had left behind when I cut the wood for my loft guardrails — I’d used the table saw to cut the grooves for the wire fencing to fit into so there was a ton of sawdust on the floor from that. I worked on reorganizing my shop area and made some preliminary plans for another set of shelves in the storage end of the garage. I also planned the locations for a few more outlets I wanted to add on that side of the building. I’ll get the lumber and electrical parts I need for both jobs when I return in spring.
I finally finished the rail for my loft, which was required by building code. This narrow section of loft space over my closet gives me easy access to the high bedroom window facing south, which I pretty much leave open in the spring and fall.
With all the wood already cut and finished for the loft rail in my bedroom, I had no reason not to finish it up. So I spent an afternoon doing that. It came out remarkably well.
And I had just one tiny bit — the return — to finish at the top of the rail for my stairs so I knocked that off in about an hour. I even took out my sander and finished the surface a little better for another coat of tung oil.
Penny looked much cleaner — and smelled much better — after a bath.
I gave Penny a bath. After so much playing in the dirt along the river and in Quartzsite, she really needed one.
I joined my writer friends for our regular meeting. I’d missed the previous one and the one before that had been called off due to weather. It was good to see them all and share feedback with them on their work. And to hear feedback on mine.
I took care of chores in town one day. I got my FAA flight physical (passed) and some long overdue blood work done. I got some prescriptions refilled. I bought food for the chickens and my barn cat. I went to the airport office, paid a bill, and dropped off a survey. I arranged to park my Jeep at the airport when I went back to Arizona so I could drive myself home when I returned.
I caught up with some friends, too. I met with Megan for some wine on Monday afternoon and had dinner with Alyse on Tuesday evening. Bob was supposed to meet with us, but with the weather kind of nasty, he’d decided to go straight home from work instead. (Wimp.)
The Wild Rush at the End of My Stay
Suddenly it was Tuesday and I was getting ready to go back to Arizona the following morning. I still had a ton to do.
I’d promised the friends waiting for me in Arizona that I’d smoke up some ribs for them, so I dutifully defrosted four racks — which is the most my Traeger can hold — and prepped them for smoking. I would have put them on the grill before dinner with Alyse, but I was worried that I’d be gone too long and the hopper would run out of pellets. I figured I’d do it when I got home that evening. Unfortunately, my Traeger’s auger decided it wasn’t going to run in the 26° weather out on my deck. So I popped the ribs into the oven on a rack over a pan, set the oven to 225°, and let them slow cook there.
That was at 7:30 PM. I packed and cleaned up my home while I waited for the ribs to cook. It took 4 hours — just as it does on the Traeger. (Thank heaven I’d had baby backs in the freezer; St. Louis style take at least an hour longer.) I also made a batch of Honey Barbecue Sauce. It was midnight when I finally wrapped the ribs in aluminum foil and a big plastic bag and stuck them in the fridge.
All this time, I had my aviation radio going and didn’t hear the Horizon flight come in at 11:55 PM. That got me thinking that it hadn’t come in. My 5:40 AM flight is the same plane and when that plane doesn’t come in at night, the morning flight is cancelled. I got it in my head that the flight would be cancelled and couldn’t sleep until I’d spoken to someone at Alaska Air about it. Although she didn’t know if the plane was in Wenatchee, she didn’t see the flight being canceled.
At 12:30 AM, all packed and ready to go with my coffee maker set up to make coffee in my travel mug, I set my alarm for 3:10 AM and finally went to sleep.
I left Wickenburg at about 11:15 AM on Tuesday. I’d already organized everything and packed the truck, with the kayaks on top. I’d be back, but not for at least two weeks.
Although my hosts offered to let me store some things at the guest house, I declined. One thing I like about my life now is that it’s so flexible — my plans can change at any time. Although I planned to return in February, who knows what might happen between now and then to change those plans?
Lunch with a Friend
I’d scheduled lunch with a friend who agreed to meet me along my route down to Phoenix. Rebecca is a doctor and a photographer. Lately, she’s more of a photographer. Like me, she worked hard at at least one career and managed her finances so that she could follow her passion and dedicate more and more time to it. With me, my passions were writing (which became my second career) and flying (which became my third). With her, it’s travel and photography and she does more of both every year. You can see her work online at the Skyline Images website.
Rebecca had recently been to two destinations that interested me: Death Valley in California and Valley of Fire not far from Las Vegas, Nevada. I wanted to pick her brain a bit about them. I’d been to both years ago — several times, in fact — and wanted to visit again, on my own terms, without having to deal with a companion who might prevent me from doing what I wanted to do: namely, getting up before dawn to get into position for capturing images in first light. Rebecca knew all about that; she was even more serious about photography than I am.
I was very eager to visit Death Valley while the wildflowers were blooming. I’d planned a February trip back in 2012 with my wasband when I was still married, but a variety of circumstances (best saved for another blog post) made me cancel it. But since I was already down south with the Mobile Mansion and I’d eventually be bringing it to California for frost season, I thought a route that took me through Death Valley would kill two birds with one stone.
Valley of Fire wasn’t too far off the route to Death Valley. It’s a smallish state park northwest of Lake Mead, remarkable for its red rock formations. I wanted to get out and hike around a bit there with my camera and see if I could get any good images of the rocks.
I thought that with the travel time I’d allotted for myself — almost five full days to get from Wickenburg to the Sacramento area — there was a chance I could spend one night at Valley of Fire (for sunset and sunrise the next morning) and two nights at Death Valley. That would still get me to my destination a day before I needed to be there, giving me the flexibility I like so much when I travel.
We met at a Wildflower Bakery near the intersection of Phoenix’s Loop 101 and I-17 freeways. She saw me parking — how could she miss the giant truck with two kayaks on the roof? — and met me in the parking lot. I left Penny in the truck with the windows down a few inches and we went inside. Because I’d had two breakfasts already — which is pretty much unpreventable when I stay with my Wickenburg friends — I wasn’t hungry and had just a salad. Rebecca had a soup that looked very good and hearty.
We chatted for a while about life: what we’d been up to, where we’d been traveling, and what was going on in Yarnell, where she owned some land and was preparing to build. Eventually, we set aside our plates and she pulled out a Death Valley map. She pointed out a bunch of different roads and points of interest. As I expected, she knew places where few of the tourists went — I really detest being part of a tourist crowd, especially when my mind is on photography. Among the highlights were some dunes I didn’t know about and am rather anxious to see.
She also recommended an ebook by a photographer couple that provides photos and GPS coordinates for points of interest to photographers at Valley of Fire. I bought a copy in PDF format this morning and will put it on my iPad to consult it while I’m traveling. I just ordered a Death Valley map like Rebecca’s to be delivered to me while I’m on the road.
After leaving Rebecca, I continued south on I-17, following Google’s directions to Tempe Camera. I’d been having some exposure issues with my Nikon D7000 camera and was also concerned about a certain amount of “looseness” I felt in my favorite lens. Since there are no camera repair places where I live and I’m seldom in Seattle, I figured I’d drop it off at a camera repair place I knew in the Phoenix area.
Tempe Camera is one of the full-service camera stores that still exist in this digital age. Not only do they still sell film and darkroom supplies, but they have a full range of SLR and DSLR cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment. They even do equipment rentals.
I maneuvered my giant truck into their parking lot and managed to back it into a space beside an empty handicapped space. Then, leaving Penny in the truck again, I brought my camera and its attached lens inside. The repair department is conveniently located on the first floor — they really ought to put it upstairs so people with sick equipment can look at replacements along the way, but I’m not complaining. After a short wait, the woman at the counter took the camera and lens, filled out some forms, and told me that she’d call with a diagnosis. If it could be repaired in-house, it would be ready by the following week, when I returned. Otherwise, it would have to go to Nikon and could take up to six weeks. Since that would really foul up my photography plans at Valley of Fire and Death Valley, you can bet I was hoping for an easy fix.
Back at the truck, I took Penny out for a quick walk in the grassy area near the parking lot. Then we loaded up again for our next and final stop for the day.
My friend Mike and his wife Cheryl had bought some land a few years back at Hangar Haciendas, an airpark that no one seems to know about southwest of downtown Phoenix, just north of South Mountain. Around the time I started building my home, they were finalizing plans to build theirs. They moved into their home around the same time I moved into mine: last spring. Since then, they’ve been working on finish items, landscaping, and other odds and ends facing the owner of a brand new home.
An airpark, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a residential development that includes a runway for homeowners. In most cases, each lot will have a hangar with a taxiway that goes out to the runway. This makes it possible to live with your plane just like most folks live with their car.
Residential airparks are not unusual in Arizona. I can think of at least ten with nice, paved runways. I’ve seen one (so far) in Washington state. They can be found in just about any state if you look hard enough.
Their home is considerably more impressive than mine. In addition to the three bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house, there’s a one bedroom, 1 bath guest house and a ginormous hangar for Mike’s plane and helicopter (and a very nice looking Datsun 280Z). It sits on one side of one end of the runway, with great views of Phoenix one way and South Mountain the other way.
I’d been dying to see the house. The last time I was in town — February 2015 — the main structure was up but the walls and windows and doors hadn’t been finished. Poor Cheryl had been a bit frazzled, dealing with contractors and trying to stay ahead of the curve on the project’s construction. Now the place was pretty much finished, although there were some details that still needed attention and were driving Cheryl nuts. What’s interesting to me is that as the General Contractor for my home, I actually had an easier time than they did because I talked directly to the subcontractors and they had to deal with a general who may or may not pass along the right instructions to the subs. No wonder Cheryl was so frustrated!
When I first contacted them about a visit, I’d expected to have the Mobile Mansion with me. I needed a place to park it where it would be safe while I went home to Washington for a while. They had plenty of land and were relatively close to the airport, where an early morning flight would take me home. It made sense to ask to park it there. They had no problem with that. But when I dropped the RV off for repairs in Quartzsite instead, I just needed to park the truck. I was hoping to spend the night at their place, but was open to staying at a hotel if they couldn’t accommodate me. No problem, though. I could come with the truck and spend the night. And although they pretty much insisted that they drive me to the airport at 4 AM the next morning, I bought a ticket for a shuttle van to get me and Penny. I could never allow a friend to take me to the airport that early.
The house, as I expected, was amazing. Cheryl was working on something when I arrived, so Mike took me on a tour of the hangar first (of course) and then the house. I loved the huge windows that let in plenty of Arizona sunlight, the desert views, the big marble tiles on the floor, the ultra-modern kitchen, and the complete home automation system. I have to admit that it was the first time I’d ever been in a home with his and hers laundry rooms. And the master bedroom shower, with its five shower heads, was big enough to host a party. Even the guest house, which was probably about the size of my living space at home, was big and bright and well-designed.
We hung out and chatted for a while and Mike built a fire in a fire pit just off the back patio. A neighbor stopped by for a beer and a chat. Then we decided on Chinese food. Cheryl placed the order and Mike and I went to get it. I discovered that yes, there is good Chinese food in Arizona. You can find it at Sun Chinese Kitchen on 20th street and Baseline.
Cheryl was tired and I had an early flight the next morning, so I left them early. I pulled the two bags I needed to take home with me the next day out of my truck and locked up the truck, leaving the keys with Mike. Then I settled into the guest house with Penny.
I was asleep minutes after my head hit the pillow.
If you know anything about me, you probably know that I lived for about 15 years in Wickenburg, AZ, most of which was spent with my wasband — that is, when he wasn’t in one of his other homes in New Jersey or Phoenix. When I moved to Wickenburg in 1997, it was a nice western town with a real cowboy flavor. Indeed, it wasn’t unusual to see real cowboys, sometimes wearing spurs, in the supermarket. Over time, greedy real estate developers and the Realtors, mortgage brokers, and politicians that supported them rezoned much of the land to allow ever more dense housing. Horse trails in open desert were replaced by subdivisions. Since the town has very little in the way of real jobs, the new homes were bought up by retirees who often lived in town only half the year. Businesses that couldn’t survive with the seasonal fluctuations of customers regularly failed. Over time, most of our friends around our age moved away.
I started thinking seriously about leaving town as early as 2005, when I took what I commonly refer to as my “Midlife Crisis Road Trip.” For 18 or 19 days I roamed around the west in my little 2003 Honda S2000 (which I still own), exploring the countryside looking for someplace I’d rather live — at least in the brutally hot summer. I came back with the idea of building a hangar home in Cascade, ID, where I could base my business for the summer months. I even dragged my future wasband up there to see the place. But, as I soon grew to expect, he wasn’t really interested in relocating and I soon gave up.
Starting in 2008, I wound up spending my summers in Washington State, where I began to build a very good summer business that finally made my helicopter work profitable. By then, I was married to the man I’d been living with for more than 20 years. He promised me, around the time we got married in 2006, that he’d join me on the road when he turned 55 (in 2011). That’s why I wound up buying the Mobile Mansion in 2010 — I wanted enough space for two of us and our dog for up to six months a year. But in 2012, he decided he needed a mommy more than a wife who treated him like an adult and he dragged me into a long, drawn out, and oh-so-ugly divorce.
I still like Wickenburg — or at least that area of the desert southwest — despite the way the town’s government and chamber of commerce seem to be doing everything in their power to destroy what once made it such a desirable place to live. The Sonoran desert is an almost magical place, especially in the winter and spring, for exploring and hiking and horseback riding. Sometimes I almost wish I kept my house there. Almost.
And I still have friends in Wickenburg. One couple, Jim and Cyndi, have been very generous to me over the past few years, offering me their guest house as a place to stay whenever I like. I dog-sat for them last winter — they have a pair of energetic golden retrievers that Penny loves to play with — for about a week and stayed for another week. This year, I decided to take them up on their offer again and spend about a week in Wickenburg between Quartzsite and my next destination.
Getting to Wickenburg
I left Quartzsite early on Tuesday afternoon, as I reported in the previous post of this series, leaving my RV behind to get the landing gear controller card replaced. I packed all of my dirty laundry, which would provide clothes for the next week, any perishables in my refrigerator, my kayaks and related gear, and anything I wanted to bring home. That last group of things included a box full of odds and ends I’d bought during my travels and the winter gear I’d brought with me when I thought I’d be stopping in Salt Lake City on my way south. So although I wasn’t dragging the Mobile Mansion, I was driving a truck full of stuff with a pair of kayaks on the roof.
Wickenburg is only about 90 miles from Quartzsite. The route is pretty straight: I-10 to SR-60 all the way into town. Route 60 cuts through a lot of empty desert with just a few towns along the way: Brenda, which seems to exist solely for snowbirds who visit Quartzsite; Salome, which features a pair of residential airports and a lot of retirees; Wenden, a farming community; and Aguila, a sad little farm town with two or three residential air parks filled with more retirees. All of these places are a lot more remote than I’d ever want to live, with miles and miles of saguaro and mesquite-studded desert between them. I knew the route well — I’d driven or flown it many times. I made it in less than 90 minutes, making only one stop along the way to check the straps on the kayaks.
It’s a pretty straight shot through the desert from Quartzsite to Wickenburg.
The view from the guesthouse not long after I arrived. I brought my bathing suit, but it never got much above 70 during my stay.
I arrived at my friends’ house in late afternoon and we shared hugs all around. Penny immediately reacquainted herself with Bertie and Donny. After a short chat in the kitchen and a glass of wine, I brought my suitcase and cooler and Penny’s things down to the guest house. It sits in a separate yard where their pool is, offering quite a bit of privacy to both them and their guests. It also has the most wonderful sounding wind chimes outside on the patio when the wind is blowing just right. And hummingbird feeders that keep quite busy during the day.
I got my laundry started and settled in a bit. Later, I went back to the main house for a very nice filet mignon dinner, cooked up by my hosts. Cyndi suggested we go roller skating down in Glendale the next day and since I’m game to do almost anything, I agreed. Then we called it a night and I went back down to the guest house where I slept like the dead.
Still Life in Wickenburg
I’m an early riser but Jim and Cyndi aren’t. That means I had two breakfasts: the one I prepared when I got up and the one Cyndi made around 9 AM.
Afterwards, I moved my truck closer to the guest house. Jim unlocked the gate so I could come and go without going through the main house. I brought more of my stuff in, mostly to organize it. Then I pulled the kayaks off my truck. I wanted to fine-tune my setup and I didn’t want to drive around with two kayaks up there for a week.
By this time, I’d also finished doing my laundry and had taken a hot shower to wash off the Quartzsite dust and smell of campfire. It was very nice to be clean again and in clean clothes.
The rink referee took this photo of me with Cyndi. I hate getting my photo taken beside petite people because they always make me look enormous by comparison.
Cyndi and I left for Great Skates in Glendale around 11:30. I drove. I’m not sure if I wanted to show off my new truck or just felt like taking it out for a spin on a drive that didn’t start or end on dusty gravel. We arrived right after the afternoon session began. There were just three other skaters: all kids. We rented skates and got out onto the rink. I was a bit rusty at first, but the more I circled the rink, the better I got. I sort of wished I had my rollerblades with me and might bring them down for next time. It took Cyndi a bit longer to get her skating legs back and she spent some time with the rink referee — what else would you call the guy with the striped shirt and whistle? — before she skated on her own. He was a really nice guy — extremely friendly and patient — and made our visit very enjoyable. We skated for about 90 minutes, during which time I was reminded again why I don’t listen to modern pop music, before calling it quits.
We stopped at Trader Joe’s in Surprise on our way back to Wickenburg. I bought some supplies for the rest of my snowbirding trip: sardines, dips, chips, cereal, chocolate, etc. Then we headed home. It was interesting to see the changes along Grand Avenue along the way.
Later, we went out to dinner in my favorite Wickenburg restaurant — which isn’t in Wickenburg: Nichols West. I had my favorite appetizer, the fried oysters, and followed that with chicken saltimbocca. I also had one of Simon’s huge martinis, very pleased to see that he remembered I liked mine with three olives. I treated for dinner and let Jim drive my truck back.
On Thursday, I started the day early with a trip to Tractor Supply. I wanted to replace the straps that came with my kayak setup with some good ratchet straps. I also wanted to replace the bolts that held the vertical supports in place with shorter bolts. The four bolts install face down and I was very concerned with the possibility of one of them scratching the roof or sunroof of my truck if I went over a bump. They had everything I needed — it’s a great store that I wish had been around when I lived in Wickenburg — and it was nice to get everything at one stop.
From there, I visited my friends at Kaley’s. They sell and repair sewing machines and offer shipping services. They provided me with all the boxes and packing materials I needed to make my move to Washington without charging me a dime. (That was probably because of all the packing materials I’d recycled with them while I lived in Wickenburg all those years.)
Then Safeway for a few groceries.
From there, I went to Screamers, where I hoped to get a breakfast burrito. That’s when I learned that the owner, Avi, had died the previous summer. Avi was an immigrant who had bought the business from its original owner years before and he made the best breakfast. I always tried to give him business when I was in town. Breakfast, unfortunately, was not being served.
I found a new place where several other restaurants had been: the Pie Cabinet. (Did you say pie? Yes!) I went in and bought myself a slice of apple pie and a latte. I also got a whole pie for after dinner. Highly recommended.
I ordered these while I was in Quartzsite and had them shipped to Jim’s house. When I say that this is the only thing my new used truck needed to make it perfect for my use, I’m not kidding.
I got back to the house just as Jim and Cyndi were leaving for a hair appointment near Phoenix. I made plans to get an eye exam and meet a friend for lunch in the Deer Valley area of Phoenix. After installing six tie-down anchors on my truck’s bed rails, I got changed and headed out, leaving Penny behind.
I had lunch with my friend Ruth, a Phoenix area Realtor and part-time nurse. Oddly enough, I met Ruth through my wasband; he worked with Ruth’s husband years ago. When my wasband and I split, Ruth and I became friends, mostly on Facebook. When I come to Arizona in the winter, I make a point of meeting with her at P.F. Chang’s in north Phoenix for lunch at least once. She’s really upbeat and understands the importance of making your life what you want it to be.
After lunch was my eye exam. It was nice to know that my prescription has not changed. I certainly don’t want to get any blinder than I already am.
I got back to Wickenburg by late afternoon. I sat outside on the swing by the wind chimes and watched Penny play with her friends. She’s pretty funny — stealing toys from the much bigger dogs. And although either one of them could seriously hurt her, they keep their distance and just watch her antics.
Penny the Tiny Dog is a bully.
Jim made dinner — chicken marsala — and it was excellent. I brought up a bottle of wine to share with Cyndi, but she stuck with what she calls her “tried and true” favorite. More for me!
We finalized plans we’d started making to go to Flagstaff. Cyndi wanted to do some skiing and although I prefer cross-country skiing, I agreed to give downhill a try. Jim booked two rooms at the Flagstaff Marriott Springhill Suites and we planned to head north at about noon the next day. The dogs would all be boarded at Bar S Animal Clinic, where Penny had actually stayed a few times during my last few months in my Wickenburg home.
The Flagstaff Trip
I had just enough time on Friday morning to write a blog post about Quartzsite — I don’t know why I put it off so long — before we loaded up in Jim’s Expedition and headed out. We stopped at Bar S to drop off the dogs and the supermarket to pick up sandwiches. Then it was the 2-1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff. It was a nice drive across Route 74 and up I-17. I spotted a bald eagle perched on a tree branch north of Camp Verde, up on the Mongollon Rim. We got in around 3 PM.
I made dinner reservations at Josephine’s, one of the nicer restaurants that I’d eaten at with my wasband and some friends years ago. (For some reason, people seem to think I want to avoid places I’ve been with my wasband. I don’t; I’m very eager to create new memories in good places that don’t include him.) I had a wonderful pork osso bucco while Jim had beef tenderloin and Cyndi had a salad. Cyndi and I shared a bottle of Argentinian Cabernet.
Some research told us that there was an afternoon ski session at the Arizona Snowbowl that started at 11 and ran until 4:30. We decided to shoot for that the next day.
My room at the Marriott was comfortable, although the heating system was noisy. I slept well and woke early (as usual). I was very pleasantly surprised to find an excellent buffet breakfast in the lobby at 7 AM. Lots of fresh hot and cold choices. Also lots of kids in ski pants. I started wondering where they were all going.
I’d brought along some of the winter gear I’d brought with me for the Salt Lake stop I hadn’t made on my drive south: Under Armor leggings and shirt, ski pants, and ski gloves. I put it all on after breakfast and met Jim and Cyndi at 10:30 for the 20-minute drive to the Snowbowl. When we made the turn onto the 7-mile drive up the mountain, we began getting an idea of what was ahead of us. There was a line of cars with attendants telling them that the parking lots were full. A shuttle bus would take skiers up. We told them we were getting dropped off — which was the plan because Jim didn’t want to ski — and they let us go. More crowds at the rental and lift areas up top. I bet every single one of the kids from breakfast was there with parents and lots of friends.
Cyndi and I grabbed our bags and got on line. She needed rentals. I needed rentals and a lesson. The last time I’d attempted downhill skiing had been in 1982 when I was dating an avid skier. That hadn’t gone as planned. Let’s just say I never made it to the lift line.
We were on line almost two hours. The line split. My line was shorter. When I got to the front of the line, I managed to get Cyndi up there with me. The rental people had already run out of all adult snow boards, all snowboard boots over size 10, and several sizes of ski boots. When I got to the front of the line, they announced that they had run out of skis for anyone 5’4″ or taller. In other words, people like me.
Great, I thought. I have an excuse to skip skiing. Jim had gotten a parking space and was sitting at a table upstairs in the restaurant. I started thinking about cocoa, possibly spiked with Kailua.
“I’ll give you the demo skis,” the rental clerk offered. And before I knew it, she’d grabbed a set of blue skis with a $700 price tag on them and took my credit card. Petite Cyndi got the regular rental skis. No cocoa for me, spiked or otherwise.
I won’t bore you with the details of my struggle to get the ski boots on, open my rented locker at the bottom of the locker bank, or carry my skis to the lesson area by 1 PM. Cyndi disappeared. Or maybe from her point of view, I disappeared.
Heather, a girl in my ski lesson group, shot this photo of me waiting for our lessons. That’s the top of the mountain behind me.
There were dozens of people waiting for lessons. We waited some more. Eventually, they took away the people with some experience leaving 19 raw beginners behind. We split into two groups. We went with Instructor Tim to a spot about a third of the way down what I’ll refer to as the Bunny Hill.
There were lots of people taking skiing or snowboarding lessons on the hill. Easily over 100 of us. While Tim taught us basics, we were treated to a free show of wipe-outs. No one got hurt. It was all kind of funny. We’d be performing soon enough.
I also won’t bore you with how Tim taught us. It was good and thorough and it took a lot of time because we had a lot of practice. Still, it was 90 minutes before we actually had both skis on. Once we demonstrated that we knew how to turn, he set us a goal of getting to the bottom of the hill so we could get on line for the conveyor belt back up.
Mount Humphreys of the San Francisco Peaks is the tallest mountain in Arizona. The snow bowl sits on its southwest side. The red X near the bottom of this image is the Bunny Hill, which sits at about 9,200 feet elevation.
I didn’t do badly. In fact, I was one of the few who didn’t fall until we had both skis on. I fell during practice, which was a real pain in the ass because I couldn’t get up with the skis on. So it basically took me 10 minutes to get ready for another try. And then, when I was ready to try again, a newbie on a snowboard wiped out right into me, throwing me right back into the snow, this time with both skis pinned partly under me and my knees bent in painfully awkward positions. Lying flat on my back, I couldn’t really move.
My instructor skied right up and released my two skis while reading the snowboarder the riot act. “You’re responsible for avoiding everyone downhill of you,” he said. “In the state of Arizona, what you just did would qualify as a traffic accident.”
I assured everyone I was okay and accepted the snowboarder’s repeated apologies. It bothered me more that he’d knocked me flat right after I’d spent 10 minutes getting up than the fact that he’d hit me at all.
Another try, another fall. It was getting old but I was improving.
My next try was dramatic because I went faster than I wanted to and found myself heading right toward a group of people. Somehow I managed to turn and miss them and then another group before pointing parallel to the hill and coming to a stop. My instructor was very excited and pleased with my progress. But in my eyes, I’d screwed up because I’d wound up somewhere other than where I wanted to be.
I skied over to the line for the conveyor belt and promptly fell. Sheesh.
Once I was on the belt, the lesson was over. As I rode up, I looked at the Bunny Hill. Could I ski that by myself? Did I want to try?
But I was saved by the bell. My phone rang. It was Jim. Cyndi wanted to call it quits at 3:30. I looked at my watch. It was 3:10. No time for skiing — I had to head back.
I took off my skis at the top of the conveyor belt and walked back up to the rental shop. Due to the high elevation (and too much time spent too close to sea level lately), I had to stop three times to catch my breath.
Needless to say, I was very glad to get rid of the skis and boots, change into my jeans, and wait with Jim for Cyndi. He’d fetched the car by the time she came out and we were headed back down the mountain by 4 PM.
It was the second time in my life I’d bought a lift ticket I hadn’t used. And yes, it will be the last. Downhill skiing is not for me. I can fly a helicopter, but I’ll never be a skier. I guess I’ll just have to settle for that.
We went back to the hotel for a while, then went out for pizza at a restaurant I can’t recommend. I had a calzone and it was good but it took forever to get. And I don’t think either Cyndi or Jim were happy with their pizza.
I’d had the foresight to crank up the heat while we were at dinner so my room was toasty warm when we got back. I then turned off the heat for the night so I didn’t have to listen to it.
Still, I was tossing and turning very early in the morning with pain in my left knee. Apparently that snowboarder crash incident had done some damage. Being still overnight had caused the knee to stiffen up. When I finally woke at 5 AM, I was in a bunch of pain. Ibuprofen and ice, my Facebook friends recommended. So while I waited for Jim and Cyndi to wake up down the hall, I nursed my knee, read the news, did a crossword puzzle, and heated up my leftover calzone in the microwave for breakfast.
I brought the ice with me in the car for the ride home.
Back in Wickenburg
Sunday gave us another gorgeous afternoon down in the Sonoran Desert.
We were back at Jim and Cyndi’s house by noon. I’d been missing Penny since I dropped her off on Friday, but being back at the house without her really made me miss her more. But Bar S wasn’t open on Sunday so I’d have to wait until Monday morning to get her.
I relaxed and snacked on some of my Trader Joe’s goodies. Their corn and black bean salsa is very good with their multigrain tortilla chips. I also washed my ski clothes and hung them on hangars to dry. And I started this blog post.
My knee wasn’t bothering me much. I don’t think there’s any serious damage.
I went out to replace the long bolts on my kayak carrier. The rear rack was easy to get to — I could reach it standing in the truck bed — but the front one was a different story. I had to climb up on the hood of the truck and sit against the top of the windshield. It was tougher to get down than get up. But I like the way the new bolts fit — flush with the bottom of the rest of the hardware. No worries about long bolts scratching the top of my truck.
On Monday, at 8 AM sharp, I was back at Bar S to pick up Penny. Since I knew Jim and Cyndi slept late, I figured I’d pick up Bertie and Donny, too. They climbed into the back seat of my truck while Penny sat up front. It was good to have her back.
Around midday, I decided to take a hike on the Vulture Peak trail. Vulture Peak is the landmark mountain south of Wickenburg. It’s an old volcanic core with much of the rest of the mountain eroded away. I could write more about it, but I already have; read about a 2009 hike with my wasband and his cousin here. Of course, I’ve hiked it several times since then — in fact, it was a favorite destination during my last winter season in Wickenburg. I’d lost so much weight the previous summer that I was able to reach the summit without so much huffing and puffing.
In the old days, when my Jeep was in town, I’d drive my Jeep to the trailhead at the base of the mountain. The Jeep road was narrow and very rough and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to attempt it in my big truck. So I drove to the parking area for the main trailhead. There was just one spot open in the lot, right next to a car that looked a lot like my 1987 Toyota MR-2. As I parked, I realized that it was my old Toyota.
Although I’d given this car to someone who lived in Wickenburg, I still think it’s a weird coincidence to see it parked in that parking lot on the same day I came to hike.
Back in 2011 or 2012, I’d given it to my local helicopter mechanic and he was still driving it. I ran into him and his wife on the trail. After exchanging hugs and catching up a bit, he confirmed that it still had the same clutch — I’d bought the car new 30 years ago and had learned to drive stick shift on it. That says a lot about Toyota reliability.
Penny and I hiked on the foot trail from the main trailhead to just past the one at the base of the mountain. That’s where I stopped for a break and to eat the chicken I’d picked up at the supermarket along the way. I took a lot of photos, both with my iPhone and with my Nikon D7000, which I rarely use. The Nikon had been giving me exposure problems and I was doing some tests with it. No sign of problems that day, though.
The view from the foot trail between the main parking area and the trailhead at the base of Vulture Peak. No flowers, but lots of cactus.
After a rest and some water for both me and Penny, we headed back to the truck. This time, we walked on the Jeep trail I used to drive up. It’s not nearly as pleasant a walk — it doesn’t go up and down and wind around as much — but it might be slightly shorter and I was curious to see its condition. It wasn’t bad until we got near the where it comes out of the wash. On both paths in, it was too badly eroded to take a big truck through.
This shot of Vulture Peak was taken from the foot path near one of the places where the Jeep road (on the left) comes close.
We got back to the truck a little after 2 PM. Instead of heading straight back to the house, I drove out to the local airport. I was looking for a place to park the Mobile Mansion for a few days where it would be safe while unattended. I figured the fenced-in airport area was a good option. I found a spot that was out of the way and easy to get to. And there was a good chance no one would actually take notice of it there until I was ready to hitch it back up and continue my travels.
While I was there, I chatted with one of the pilots — someone I didn’t know who knew me. (I lot of people in Wickenburg know me.) I was hoping to get a bunch of the pilots together for one of their infamous afternoon cocktail hours so I could introduce recently retired airline pilot Jim. The pilot who was there suggested that we come by on a Sunday morning for coffee and donuts at the terminal — a weekly ritual that I started when I held the airport fuel manager contract in 2003-2004. (They never stopped doing it.) I’m still hoping to get an afternoon party going when I come back to town.
I secured both kayaks to the roof of my truck by myself. Not terribly difficult, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it every day.
Back at the house, I took it easy for a while, then went out to prep for my departure. The main thing I needed to do was get the kayaks back on the roof of my truck. I fiddled around with the roof rack a bit to fine-tune its setup, then lifted the kayaks into place, one by one, and secured them. They’re not terribly heavy, but they are awkward. And I didn’t want either one of them to fall off before I could secure them, especially with a truck door open. The whole thing went smoothly, though, and I was able to tightly secure them with the new ratchet tie-down straps I’d bought. I then trimmed about 3 feet off each strap and using Velcro ties, secured the loose ends. I’m still not 100% happy with the way the rack attached to the roof at the front of the truck, but since everything held together, I can’t complain.
I spent some time doing a load of laundry and packing my bags. The things I had with me were going to two different places: some of the things would be going back home to Washington with me later in the week while other things were going to be stored in the truck and taken back to the Mobile Mansion when I returned. I had to be careful about how I packed so I didn’t screw things up. At first, I thought I could get everything to go home into my big suitcase with my little suitcase inside it, too. When I did that and tried to lift it, I realized that it would be more than the 50 pounds allowed by the airline. So I kept the little bag separate. Because I’m an Alaska Air MVP frequent flyer, I get two bags checked free.
Jim and Cyndi made a chicken and spinach dish for dinner and then settled down to watch the Democratic town hall meeting on television. I went back down to the guest house, enjoyed the peace and quiet of a star-filled sky for a while, and then went in to finish packing.
As usual, Penny went back to bed after her morning pee. But Tuesday morning, I had to chase her off the bed.
I woke early (as usual) the next morning, stripped the bed, and got the laundry going again. Whenever I stay at the guest house, I leave it as clean (or cleaner) than I found it. I had plenty of time to launder the sheets and make the bed, so I did. I also had coffee and breakfast in the guest house, followed by a second breakfast at 9 with Jim and Cyndi in the main house.
I packed the truck as carefully as I packed the bags that went into the truck. I wanted all the things that would go home to be together so I didn’t have to struggle to find them at my next stop.
Then it was 11:15 and time for me to head out to my next destination.
Quartzsite, AZ, is a special place — special in its oddity. It’s a small town on I-10 about 18 miles east of the Colorado River. With a total area of about 36 square miles, the 2010 census counted 3,677 people. Those are “permanent” residents, of course. During the month of January, some estimates say the population swells to about 100,000.
A broad look at Quartzsite from the air in January 2008.
You read that right. 100,000 people in a town where less than 4,000 normally live.
Where do those people stay, you might wonder? The answer is obvious if you drive down I-10 through the area in January: in RVs parked in a handful of RV parks but mostly all over the desert on the BLM land that surrounds the town.
A closeup looking almost straight down at groups of RVs.
Why do they come? That’s a pretty good question. I think there are a few reasons:
It’s a cheap place to stay. Camping on BLM land is usually free for up to two weeks, although Quartzsite has a handful of “long term” areas where you can stay longer for a $40 fee. (Of course, there are so many RVs out there in the free area that it’s unlikely a BLM ranger is actually keeping track of the length of your stay.) Retirees — and a lot of other people I know, including me — like free. Keep in mind that to get this free camping with a certain level of comfort, you need an RV that’s fully contained with water, power, propane, and sewer holding tanks. That can be a huge investment. You can haul in water and propane, have a solar panel and/or generator for power, and minimize use of your plumbing. I talk a little about what it’s like to camp off the grid in the previous post of this series, “The Colorado River Backwaters.”
Other snowbirds go there. If there’s one thing I noticed about snowbirders it’s that they like to gather in popular places. Often Quartzsite is the meetup location of snowbirds from all over the west to see each other annually.
There are “shows.” The entire town is like a giant flea market with all kinds of merchandise for sale, usually cheap. But among those ragtag markets are also scheduled events like those at Tyson Wells: a gem and mineral show, an art show, a classic car show. The big show in January, which lasts 10 days and gives RVers a good excuse to come is the big RV show. Indeed, I bought the Mobile Mansion in Quartzsite back in 2010.
I’ve written extensively about Quartzsite throughout this blog since I’ve been going there even longer than I’ve been blogging. Search for “Quartzsite” to see what else I’ve written.
I should point out that Quartzsite has changed dramatically since I began going there in the early 2000s. There used to be more, better, bigger shows — Cloud’s Jamboree and The Main Event come to mind. Prices for goods and services were lower and the whopping 10.1% sales tax wasn’t looming large in every transaction. There didn’t seem to be as much junk. While back in the mid 2000s, there was plenty to do and see on the north side of the freeway, these days it’s a collection of seasonal RV dealers and clusters of booths resembling yard sales more than cohesive shops or show booths.
Friends of mine who have been selling their artwork or other merchandise at shows in Quartzsite since the 1990s tell me that the main reason for the change is greed — the town’s primary source of revenue is sales tax collected during the winter months from tourists. Little by little, good shows have died off to be replaced by seasonal RV sales lots. The town collects huge sums of money from the sale of these high-ticket items. God knows what they do with it. Off-season, the town is pretty much a shithole (if you’d pardon the expression) with a pair of truck stops and a handful of fast food joints the only reason to stop there. Year after year, the roads remain in poor condition and the lots where the shows are held are as dusty and dirty as ever. And traffic in the middle of January? Don’t get me started.
At least it was warm and sunny.
Getting to Quartzsite
Understand that I didn’t need to stay in Quartzsite to visit the shows and buy the odds and ends I wound up buying. We were camped out in the backwaters of the Colorado River, which was about a 30- to 40-minute drive from there. But my friend Janet is an artist and she was booked to show/sell her work at Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama. She’d park her little RV in her booth space — as most other vendors did — where she’d have a full hookup and be able to keep an eye on things for the 10 days of the show. This show runs the same time as the big RV show and is right across the street, so it has the potential for the most visitors and best sales.
Her husband, Steve, wanted to be close but had the horses with him. He decided to relocate to the BLM land east of town where he could set up camp for free. I didn’t want to stay out at the backwaters by myself, so I’d camp out with Steve and the horses. Janet left on Wednesday; we’d leave on Thursday.
I’d packed up the Mobile Mansion on Wednesday afternoon, leaving just a handful of things outside to put away in the morning. I’d also hooked up the truck so I was all ready to move out. My goal was to stop and get the Mobile Mansion washed, dump the holding tanks, and replenish my on-board fresh water supply on my way to Quartzsite. So on Thursday morning at about 8 AM, after making coffee for myself and Steve, I finished packing up, closed up the RV slides, and headed out.
Here’s my rig, ready to move out just after dawn on Thursday morning.
Steve remained behind to get the horses on board his trailer, gather up his fencing, and pack up. He’d meet me in Quartzsite at Tyson Wells.
The Mobile Mansion was filthy. Not only had it gathered dirt and dust on the 2 years it had been in almost constant use on my property, but it had an extraordinary amount of road dirt on its bottom half — especially in front — from my long drive down to Arizona from Washington. I’d spotted a truck wash at the Ehrenberg exit of I-10 when I’d come into camp on January 2 and had walked over to ask if they did RVs. I got a quote of about $45 to wash the entire rig — $55 if I wanted my truck washed, too. It was too good a deal to pass up. The trick was to get there early enough in the day that I didn’t have to wait behind someone else.
Here’s my truck and the Mobile Mansion getting washed at a truck wash.
I was the first one there at 8:15 AM that morning. I pulled in, put Penny on a leash, and walked over to the Flying J truck stop next door, leaving my rig in the hands of two young guys.
Someone on Twitter asked if “they use Mexicans to wash trucks.” I replied that I believed the guy doing the work was the actual owner. He was a heavyset man in his late 20s who looked to be of hispanic heritage. But he spoke English with no accent and was extremely polite. His co-worker was a young, thin black guy of about the same age with the same excruciating politeness. I don’t think I’ve ever been addressed as “ma’am” so many times in such a short period of time.
The Flying J had a Cinnabon kiosk inside. I like Cinnabon, but I don’t like the fact that they’re usually smothered in sticky, super-sugary icing. I asked at the counter and learned that if I waited until a fresh batch came out of the oven, I could get them with the icing on the side. So that’s what I did. Seven minutes after arriving, I walked out with four steaming hot cinnamon buns in a box. I’d add a bit of icing to one and enjoy it in the sunshine while waiting for my rig to be washed, then have the others for dessert or breakfast over the next two days.
The truck and trailer took about a half hour to wash. They came out great. I paid the bill and included a $10 tip and headed out again.
Our next stop was across the freeway at the convenience store “mall” where we’d been buying lottery tickets and filling water jugs. They had a dump station there where I could dump my holding tanks and fill my water tank. It took a bit of piloting to get my big rig into position, and even then I barely had enough sewer hose to reach the dump. But once I was set up, the job went quickly.
When I was finished and all the hoses had been stowed, I got on I-10 and headed east. It wasn’t a long drive, although traffic at the first Quartzsite exit was already starting to build at 10 AM. I headed east along the frontage road and turned into the parking lot on the west side of the Tyson Wells show grounds. Fortunately, the parking lot was mostly empty. I was able to turn the rig around (without backing up!) and park it in a large RV spot facing the exit. I locked up, put Penny back on a leash, and headed into the show grounds.
Tyson Wells has one show after another starting in December. So although the big Sell-A-Rama wasn’t due to start until the next day, there were already plenty of vendors set up on the east end of the show grounds. I found Janet’s booth, where Steve was already helping her set up. They’d found some almost new carpeting dumped in a dry wash nearby and had scavenged a few very large pieces in excellent shape to use for the booth floor. (Janet had other carpeting she normally used, but this new stuff was not only nicer, but it matched her booth walls.) We worked together for a while and then Penny and I wandered off to get a bite to eat, returning with some fresh fry bread drizzled with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
My Snowbird Stay in Quartzsite
It was mid afternoon before Steve was ready to move on. Penny and I waited for him to pass us in the parking lot with his truck and horse trailer, then pulled in behind him. We continued east on the frontage road for about a mile or two, then turned right onto one of the “roads” out into the desert. We headed almost due south along a pretty easy-to-follow roadway, crossing a few shallow dry washes along the way. On either side of us were hundreds of RVs, already parked and set up — hundreds more would arrive over the next few days. Our goal was to be as far away from these clusters of RVs as possible. We knew from experience that too many these people liked to run their generators for hours on end, especially in the evening, and we simply didn’t want to listen to them. Besides, Steve wanted to set up the horses as far as he could from people who might bother them. The farther we went, the less likely people would come out our way.
This has always been my goal when camping out at Quartzsite — even the few times I did it with my wasband. It amazes me that so many people would be satisfied living in crowded communities nearly right on top of the noisy freeway when they could drive a half mile farther into the desert for quiet and privacy. But it’s a good thing they do. That means fewer people out where we want to be.
Steve picked a place and parked. I parked nearby, checked the level, put down two leveling blocks, and parked the Mobile Mansion’s driver side tires on them. Then I went about setting up camp.
Setting up camp consisted of putting up my wind ribbon, setting out a mat, and taking out my barbecue grill.
I’ll be honest — I wasn’t interested in doing too much unpacking. The trouble with living on the fringe is that there are fewer people out there to keep an eye on things. Our closest neighbors were what Janet refers to as “rainbow kids”: young, hippie-like people living out in the desert. Apparently some of them aren’t adverse to appropriating things they find in unattended camps. We made friends with our local rainbow kids right away, but Steve still didn’t trust them. And he didn’t want to leave the horses alone. So for the next few days, one of us would be in camp almost all the time.
Finding a replacement for this part would have been difficult anywhere else. But in Quartzsite, I had it replaced within an hour of finding it broken.
I’ve been buying custom license plate frames from the same booth in Quartzsite for years. This one is (obviously) for my truck.
With just two items on his menu — fried rice or fried noodles — the Wok Man makes good, fresh food in a screened-in wok.
I discovered almost immediately that the plastic do-dad that holds the RV door open when parked had snapped off, likely in transit put possibly during the RV wash. Anywhere else, this would have been a royal pain in the butt, but in Quartzsite during January, it wasn’t a big deal because of all the RV parts dealers there. I set off with Penny to get that part replaced, pick up a license plate frame I’d ordered the previous week, grab some lunch, and get the water jugs filled at Janet’s campsite for the horses. Along the way, I found an RV windshield repair guy set up in a motorhome alongside the road and had a chip in the truck’s windshield repaired before it could crack.
And that’s the thing I like about Quartzsite — if you know the place well enough, you can find just about anything you need, normally at a fair price. (Okay, maybe not food.) And you can walk from place to place. I left my truck at the chip repair person’s spot and walked to get the license plate frame, replacement part, and lunch. When I walked back, the truck was done. During the winter season, it’s a lot like a little city full of goods and services.
In the evening, it got very dark out our way — so dark that Janet had trouble finding us when she came to join us for dinner. We didn’t have firewood, so we couldn’t have a campfire. The magic of the backwaters was clearly absent in Quartzsite.
I should mention here that Quartzsite treated us to amazing sunsets and sunrises nearly every day. In the beginning, I took photos. But by the end of my stay, I didn’t even bother.
A beautiful sunset on Thursday was followed by a beautiful sunrise on Friday. And so on.
On Friday, I went to see the Tyson Wells show, with every intention of checking out the RV show in and around the huge tent. I bought a few things I wanted or needed — bungee balls, disposable gloves, carabiners, small tools, Dremel bits, kitchen gadgets, etc., etc. There’s no shortage of this stuff in Quartzsite and it’s all cheap, mostly because it’s all made-in-China grade. Most of the vendors who sell this kind of stuff also give away DC flashlights that you can keep in your car’s power port to charge and have handy when you need it. I managed to collect three of them and gave one to Steve.
I bought this marble mortar and pestle from a rock shop for only $6.
One of the better buys was a marble mortar and pestle. I thought I’d brought the one from my Arizona home, but I can’t find it in any of my boxes so I likely left it behind. The one I bought from a rock shop is the perfect size for grinding nuts or spices and was on sale for only $6. How can you beat that?
I visited Janet in her booth. She’d been pretty busy and expected to get a lot busier the next day. The booth looked great, as usual, and she had lots of beautiful original art to share including her matted and embellished framed paintings on feathers, spirit feathers, and canvas artwork. She really does beautiful work.
Janet’s booth at Tyson Wells.
I was a bit disappointed when I went over to the RV show and discovered that it didn’t open until the next day: Saturday. I dreaded dealing with the weekend crowds and planned to return on Monday.
I got back into the truck and went across the freeway to the north side of town. I was hoping to find some other small shows there, but most of what I found was just plain junk. I did notice a lot of RV dealers, though, and figured I’d start visiting them the next day. Although the Mobile Mansion has not been sold, I’m already thinking about its replacement and wanted to get a good idea of what was out there.
Before heading back, I did check out an area of shops on the far west side of town, on the north side of the freeway. One of the shops specialized in flags and wind streamers, but also had an amazing selection of brand new, colorful neon signs.
Years ago, when I lived in New Jersey, my future wasband bought me a neon sign as a gift and it hung in our living room. It was big and orange and said “Live Entertainment.” I later got a second sign but never got a power supply for it. When we moved, we packed up the signs. But we never unpacked them in Arizona and, to my knowledge, they remained packed in the garage when I moved out in May 2013. I simply did not like either sign enough to take it with me to my new home.
How could I resist? Here’s what my new sign looked like set up in the Mobile Mansion briefly before I packed it away to keep it safe until we got home.
But I still love neon, so when I saw the Cocktails sign, I had to have it. The price was fair and the owner of the shop accepted credit cards. I almost bought a second sign — it said “Ford Tough” and had the Ford logo and I thought it would be fun to hang in the garage — but despite a bunch of bargaining, I just couldn’t justify the additional expenditure. Besides, I didn’t want anyone to think I was Ford brand loyal. I’m not. So I left with just one sign.
But the shop is open through February….
On Saturday, I went RV shopping. I stopped at several dealers, looked at several RVs, and wasn’t struck by anything of interest. I spoke to several managers about them buying my RV or me leaving it on consignment for a few weeks but no one was offering any deals worth considering. They were there to sell their inventory, not add to it or sell mine. I understood that and despite one really insulting offer, generally respected it.
I made one more stop before heading back: the smoked turkey leg booth near the RV show. I bought a turkey leg for later and a fully dressed baked potato with smoked brisket on top for lunch. Yum.
I got back to the campsite by noon so Steve could spend the day helping Janet in her booth. It was a dull afternoon. I regretted doing all my maintenance chores at my last campsite — they would have helped kill time while I horse-sat in Quartzsite.
On Sunday, I didn’t know what to do. I’d seen everything in Quartzsite that I wanted to see except the RV show. But it was Sunday and it would be crowded and I hate crowds.
But maybe if I went early enough?
I left the campsite at 9 AM and headed straight to the RV show. I got a good parking spot out on the road and bee-lined it to the big tent. Things were just opening up and there was no crowd. I bought a breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, and machaca, and walked the perimeter of the tent while I was eating it.
There was quite a bit to see, but not much of it was of any interest to me. I did get a good demo of LED lighting that would likely save a lot of power (and spare me the use of a generator) and see an interesting tool that precisely calculated angles for wood cuts. I also saw some motorcycle bumper lifts that would make it possible to take along my motorcycle on future RV trips — if I was willing to spend $4K on the hardware and installation.
Inside the tent was disappointing, as usual. Too many vendors selling blenders and cookware and microfiber cleaning cloths. Too many booths for back pain and “natural remedies.” I think a quarter of the booths were for RV parks or related time-shares. Anything available inside that was also available outside the tent cost 25% to 50% more and that was 25% or 50% more than you could get it across the street at Tyson Wells Sell-A-Rama.
Two things of interest:
Amazon’s Camperforce program, which gives seasonal warehouse jobs with full hookup RV sites to full-time RVers. This program would actually be perfect for me, keeping me busy for November and most of December while earning some money and meeting people. Trouble is, the closest location is in Texas and I really have no desire to go to Texas with the Mobile Mansion.
A portable fire pit might make a good centerpiece for my patio table.
Camco’s Little Red Campfire is a propane fire pit that can be packed into a can. While it might be fun for camping, what interested me is its potential use for adding a propane fire pit to the table on my deck. They were selling for just $75, which turned out to be a very good price.
I goofed off a bit more, visited Janet, bought some dates and other odds and ends, and headed back to camp to give Steve a chance to get out.
Turns out that a collapsible RV rake makes a good tool for roasting marshmallows over a campfire.
Later that evening, I cooked up some pork tenderloins on my barbecue grill and Janet brought over a salad. We had a campfire with some pallet wood I’d found and brought back to camp. We made s’mores for dessert, using a rake to hold the marshmallows over the fire.
Ending My Trip
By Sunday afternoon, I felt pretty much done with Quartzsite. Trouble was, I was waiting for a package to be delivered to Ehrenberg’s post office for me. The post office would be closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Day. That meant I was stuck in Quartzsite until I could get it, assemble the roof rack for my kayaks (which is what was in the package), and pack up. I was looking at another two full days in Quartzsite.
Unless I could get the package earlier.
On Monday, I went into Ehrenberg to get fuel for my truck, then to Blythe to do some food shopping and pick up hay for Steve’s horses. I worked the phones. I discovered that my package was at the UPS office in Blythe and I made arrangements to pick it up that day. The automated system assured me that the Blythe UPS office would be open from 9 AM to 5 PM.
It wasn’t. It was open from 9 AM to 10 AM, but although I’d arrived before 10 AM, a sign on the door said that due to staffing problems it wouldn’t be open until 3:30 that afternoon.
I was livid. I was looking at a building with a full parking lot and a locked front door. That locked door is the only thing that prevented me from leaving Quartzsite a full day early.
And, for some reason, I was very anxious to leave.
I can make a long story longer or shorter. Let’s take shorter: A UPS truck came into the lot and I flagged down the driver before he could leave. I told him my situation and he very kindly went inside to find my package. It took him a full 15 minutes. Turns out, the office is so small that it’s staffed by the drivers. When the drivers go out to deliver, the office closes for the day.
Small towns, huh?
I had my package, the hay, some groceries, a full tank of diesel, and five bales of alfalfa by 1 PM.
I stopped at the Tyson wells and bought 8 LED bulbs for the Mobile Mansion. I planned to put them into the fixtures I used most. If they’d been cheaper, I would have replaced every single bulb. But those eight bulbs cost $89 and I really thought that was enough to spend on lightbulbs that day.
I also stopped at the RV show and picked up the fire pit. That’s when I learned that they were about 40% cheaper than list price because they were refurbished. Didn’t bother me. The one I bought looked good as new.
By 3 PM, I was back at camp, starting to assemble my new roof rack.
That’s when Steve asked me if I wanted to go for a horseback ride. You see, he was trying to work with one of the horses and the other two were going nuts about being left behind. He figured he may as well saddle another one, put a pack on a third to keep her busy, and go out for a ride.
So we rode off into the desert, heading west toward town. I rode Cerro, Janet’s horse. He’s a gaited horse with a very smooth trot. (I still think Flipper has a better lope.) We made our way past campsites, across shallow washes, and eventually to Route 95, which we crossed when there was a gap in the traffic. Then west a bit south of the big RV Show tent until we got to Tyson Wash. We followed that north, crossed the road that ran past Tyson Wells, and rode right into the Tyson Wells parking lot. Since we’d gone that far, we went all the way — to Janet’s booth, where we dismounted and tied the horses up to her van. We turned a lot of heads, but not as many as you might think. After visiting briefly with Janet, we mounted up, leaving poor Janet to clean up the poop two of the horses had considerately left behind. Then we retraced our steps all the way back to our camp. I didn’t have my tracking app running, but I figure we rode a total of about 4 miles and were out for two hours.
By then, it was too late to finish mounting the roof racks.
We made steaks over the fire for dinner. Janet had bought mesquite charcoal. I’d bought dessert, but forgot to serve it. We sat around a campfire afterward and talked about my plans for the next few weeks.
On Tuesday, I finished assembling the rack and started loading the kayaks. (I should mention that I bought the roof rack because I was tired of lugging the kayaks in and out of the Mobile Mansion for transit.) Steve helped, but I think I can do it alone. (I hope so!)
While I was working, two retirees from a big camp that had set up near the rainbow kids (remember them?) came by looking for four folding chairs that had disappeared overnight. They claimed that the kids had been very rude to them before moving their site away. I told them it was likely because they didn’t expect so many RVs — there had to be at least 6 big rigs — to park so close to them and run their generators so much. The two old guys got a bit testy with me, telling me that they’d been camping in that spot for 15 years — as if that mattered. The desert is huge, I reminded them. Most people camp this far out because they don’t want to be close to others. They told me that they suspected the kids had come back during the night to steal the chairs. I told them I didn’t know anything about it but pointed vaguely out into the desert where Steve had told me they’d moved. The last time I saw the old guys, they were wandering around out there.
Steve took this photo of me and Penny on the steps of the Mobile Mansion that last morning in Quartzsite.
I made a bunch of phone calls to arrange for the Mobile Mansion’s landing gear control card to be replaced. I’d wanted it done near Phoenix, but I wound up making an appointment in Quartzsite. That actually worked out much better for me, since they’d let me park it there until I returned in February, saving me the bother of worrying about parking until then.
By about noon, I was ready to go. I hooked up the Mobile Mansion and pulled out. Just two stops before I left Quartzsite: a dump station to dump all of the RV’s tanks and the RV repair place on the other end of town. Traffic was horrendous. At one point, stuck in traffic on a highway overpass, a man stuck in traffic going the opposite direction gave me the thumbs up and said, “Nice rig.”
Nice rig, eh? You betcha!
I flashed my own thumbs up back at him and called out, “Thanks!”
By 2 PM, Penny and I were headed east on I-10 with the Mobile Mansion left behind. We’d be at our next destination within 90 minutes.